LRD Booklets July 2020

Law at work 2020 - the trade union guide to employment law



[pages 15-16]

This 32nd edition of Law at Work is published at a time when one issue is dominating all aspects of normal life, at home and at work. Many workers, such as NHS staff and careworkers at the frontline of the crisis, supermarket workers, hauliers and staff keeping schools open for the children of key workers, have carried on working throughout, often at great personal risk to their safety and that of their families. Others are working from home, often while also caring for young children. Temporary income support schemes are affecting many workers. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly a quarter of the UK workforce have been furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Limited protection has also been put in place for the self-employed under the Coronavirus Self-employment Income Protection Scheme, although nearly two-thirds (60%) have said it is not enough to sustain their business and income through the crisis. The government income protection schemes have been broadly welcomed, but many are falling through the cracks.

Some workers and family members have fallen ill with the virus or have had to self-isolate. Pregnant workers face particular concerns and have been advised to work from home wherever possible and avoid all non-essential travel. People with health conditions that make them clinically extremely vulnerable have been advised by the government to remain at home for their own protection, called “shielding”.

As the lockdown gradually eases, workers face a new threat - being forced to return to work before they feel confident that their workplace or commute is safe. Limits on public transport mean some workers cannot get to work at all, while others are expected to work despite having no childcare.

Meanwhile, a Resolution Foundation report, Risky Business, shows that while everyone’s health is at risk and everyone’s working lives have been altered, some are affected more than others. The UK’s key workers and those in shutdown sectors are experiencing the most acute consequences, with lower-paid people, young and women the hardest hit. Almost a third of the lowest-paid workers lost their job or were furloughed in the first two months of the crisis.

Research by CLASS, the Centre for Labour and Social Studies, suggests that up to six million workers fear losing their job within six months. The TUC is calling for a job guarantee scheme to stop long-term unemployment, and a plan that puts full employment on decent wages and fair terms at its heart, coordinated by a national recovery council.

The TUC has produced an online resource for reps, Covid 19 – Coronavirus – guidance for unions – with links to specific guidance from individual unions. This edition of Law at Work contains information about the work rights implications of the pandemic as follows:

• sickness absence, sick pay, changes to SSP, self-isolating, sickness absence procedures – Chapter 8;

• terms and conditions, social distancing at work, shifts, hours, lay off, wages, holidays, medical suspension, right to a safe workplace – Chapters 3 and 4;

• Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and redundancy rights – Chapter 11;

• Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Protection Scheme – Chapter 2;

• rights of safety reps and safety committees and the right of employees to withdraw to a place of safety – Chapter 5;

• pregnancy – Chapters 7 and 9; and

• working from home, key workers, time off to care for dependants – Chapters 9 and 15.

There will be more information in LRD’s upcoming companion annual publication for union reps, Health and Safety Law (

About Law at Work 2020

Law at Work is designed as an essential tool for negotiators, reps and members, and as a means for trade unionists to keep up-to-date with employment law changes. This revised and updated edition provides the basic information reps need to understand the law, to make their case as clearly as possible to their employer and to protect jobs, promote safe working conditions and prevent cuts to members' terms and conditions, through negotiation and persuasion. Law at Work is supported by an advice line available to LRD-affiliated organisations.

Unlike most other employment law guides, LRD’s Law at Work examines the law from the perspective of trade unions and workers. While not designed to enable an individual or union rep to take a claim right through the court process, it indicates where the relevant law can be found, highlights what has changed and what has stayed the same, and provides up-to-date examples of the law in action. The LRD’s Case Law at Work series of booklets provides case summaries in greater detail and can be read as a companion to this booklet.

Most trade unions offer their members a legal advice service and any member or rep contemplating taking a legal case should contact their union first. In some unions, tribunal cases will be handled internally at district, regional or even head office level. This booklet does not contain individual legal advice and must not be relied on as such.

Law at Work 2020 refers to the legislation as it applies to England, Wales and Scotland (although there are some variations in Scotland). However, many of the principles also apply in Northern Ireland, which has its own legislation but with a broadly similar structure. (The key differences are set out in Chapter 1.)